Monday, July 10, 2017

Dante's African Inferno

Photo by Jennifer Stewart

African summer in the city. You barely make it through the day, body hot and falling-down-dead lethargic, your flesh like candle-wax too close to the stove. And bones, you haven't got any; there's no structure to you, just this melt-down happening way beyond your control. 

I'd headed for the open road to get out of that hot as hell and nowhere to escape city. What did I know of what lay ahead? Zero. What did I care? I didn’t. 

Have you ever driven through the Karoo in a heat wave in a car which doesn't have air conditioning? Let me tell you first about the Karoo. It goes on forever, the road as straight as a ruler. It gets almost unbearable, no matter what you do to try and distract yourself. Your brain is baked anyway. On and on and on without relief, and as for the heat, if you close the windows you suffocate, but if you open them the hot air sears your lungs, dry-heat burns your mouth.

Even water doesn't help. How could it? It's hot in the bottle, anyway. Still, you try it and you shout in frustration, your throat is a furnace. I was trapped in the inferno before I could say Jack Rabbit. 

It'll get cooler, soon. Soon. You realize you said the words out loud. Your voice wavering like the shimmering road ahead. On and on and on and on, through dry, dusty scrubland. No trees, no animals, no people. Just the straight road and the heat. It's not going to get cooler. Ever.

Seconds dragged themselves lead-heavily, milestones passed interminably, face red, blood pounding, body a hot and sweat-sticky hell. That's when I knew, it's never going to end, this road, I'm stuck on a highway to perpetual hell. The ferocity of my longing for the open road in my new car, it stopped the world, turned it on its head. I'd forever be trapped in a Dante-type open-road-Inferno. I stopped fighting it, stuck in a dry-heat warp. I spoke the words out loud again, I forgot the damn air conditioning doesn't work. My voice sounded strange and eery, throat heat-gravel. I stayed silent and my thoughts shouted burningly, searing my brain.

The tarmac shimmered. Was that water? No, fool! Time stretched sluggishly, life became a slow-motion mirage, the straight road a hallucinated river tormenting me with a never-to-be-fulfilled promise of cool quench to my searing body-thirst.

It will never end. The words became a mantra. Something had happened to the workings of time. It had really stopped. Was I moving, was I imagining it? Hot air in my face, hot air down my dry throat. Please god let it rain, please, I'll do anything. No rain. It doesn't rain in the Karoo. If it did, the rain drops would boil. It can never end.

Suddenly it had. Ended.  

The torture was miraculously over. Out of the blue it was evening, and have you any idea what that means? It means the sun had set and I had arrived at a small hotel awash in an oasis sea of green, soft, moist grass, huge willow-green cool trees, cool on my face, cool under my bare throbbing feet, cool water drenching the thirst of my sweat-sticky body, cool crisp linen on my luxurious bed.

Then I heard the thunder, and Oh Sweet Heaven. Cool rain.